Of Robert Gates and Organizing in the Obama Era
A few of you also wrote to express concern that we may not be giving the president-elect or Mr. Gates a fair shake. Thanks so much to those who wrote in. I want to respond to those concerns by sharing a few thoughts on organizing in the Obama era, as well as on Mr. Gates.
Like many of you, I worked to elect Obama president. Peace Action West was one of the few peace groups to endorse Obama. And this Thanksgiving, I will express whole-hearted thanks for the election's outcome.
President Obama himself is setting the tone for a more accessible presidency, by asking for voters' input through his website and with a YouTube weekly address. In his own words, "Change doesn't come from Washington; change goes to Washington." He is not asking for blind allegiance, but is actively encouraging voter dialogue with him.
In that vein, we thought carefully, weighing the pros and cons on Mr. Gates, before wading in at this stage. History tells us that much will be set into motion in these earliest days. History also shows that a President can't call all the shots – appointees have great power to help shape the agenda. Obama has not yet made his decision regarding Gates.
Here's why I'm deeply concerned about Gates continuing his tenure as Secretary of Defense:
A number of former colleagues in the CIA have testified to Congress that Gates "spins" intelligence to push his own policy preferences. Even conservative former administration officials like George Shultz and James Baker have called this out. Then Secretary of State Shultz once told Gates, at that time deputy director of the CIA: "I don't have any confidence in the intelligence community. I feel you all have very strong policy views. I wouldn't trust anything you guys said about Iran no matter what. I feel you try to manipulate me. You deal out intelligence as you deem appropriate. I feel an effort is made to manipulate me by the selection of material that you send my way."
Iraq: Gates has been an outspoken opponent to Obama's withdrawal plan. He accused congressional opponents of the Bush strategy of 'emboldening the enemy'. Given all that it's hard to picture Gates implementing and defending a timeline for troop withdrawal.
Nuclear weapons: At a time when former cold warriors like Henry Kissinger and George Shultz are calling for steps towards a nuclear weapons free world, Gates has been calling for a new generation of nuclear weapons. There is a powerful, emerging consensus –supported by Obama — that the US should work to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Gates favors an aggressive nuclear policy and portrays the arms control agenda as naive.
There are other reasons, and Rebecca Griffin, our political director, has written about this in an earlier post on Groundswell. This is not about second-guessing Obama. If he does decide to keep Gates on his team – and I really hope he doesn't – I believe it's better he do so knowing our deep concerns about keeping Gates on his team.
It's not too late to share your concerns with our next president, but it will be soon. Please do send him your thoughts here. I also invite you to comment with your thoughts on how best to organize for peace in this new era in the comments section below.
As always, Peace Action West is strengthened by the thinking of the community of folks that makes up our organization. This new political era will invite even more discussion amongst us all as we decide what organizing strategies will bring the most change. I hope you'll participate in that discussion.